A team built to win a title now didn't get close.
Sure, the New York Knicks ended lengthy droughts for division titles and playoff series victories, so there were successes. But they surrounded Carmelo Anthony with players on their last NBA legs with a championship in mind, knowing the window to win one would slam shut quickly.
As Hall of Famer Earl Monroe said in April on the night they honored the 40th anniversary of their last championship squad: "This team wasn't built to be winning a championship for next year. Not when you're getting guys 38, 39, 40 years old. This is for this year."
Now it's over. It was good, but not nearly good enough.
The Knicks were eliminated Saturday by the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was the Knicks' first appearance in the second round since 2000, but they expected to go further.
"We all knew what was the goal that we had set," Anthony said. "Everybody wants to win a championship."
They had to settle for their first Atlantic Division title since 1994 and a 54-28 record that was their best since winning 57 games in 1996-97. Anthony won the scoring title and J.R. Smith was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, so Anthony wouldn't consider the season a failure.
"Overall, we had a hell of a season, hell of a year," he said. "I think we took some steps forward as a team, as an organization, to win the games that we won, 50-plus games, to win our division. To get to this point right now where we're at, we had a chance to get to the conference finals. We'll take that. It's a learning curve for us, and we'll be back better and stronger next year for sure."
Not without a change of personnel — and perhaps a change in philosophy.
Coach Mike Woodson wanted veterans, insisting teams need them to contend for titles. But few clubs have ever loaded up on them the way the Knicks did, and the old guys either finished poorly or couldn't finish at all.
Kurt Thomas (40) and Rasheed Wallace (39) never made it to the playoffs because of foot injuries. Marcus Camby (39) hardly played. Jason Kidd (40) lost his Hall of Fame-bound game in the playoffs, missing all 17 shots across the final 10 games and finishing 3 of 25 from the field.
Kidd and Camby are still under contract for two more seasons.
There are plenty more questions. Amare Stoudemire has been unable to remain healthy the last two seasons, so it's unknown what the Knicks can get from the player who has $45 million left on his contract. Smith can become a free agent and would seem in line for a big raise from the $2.9 million he'd be scheduled to earn, but his horrendous 29 percent shooting and poor decisions over the final eight games could scare off potential suitors.
The Knicks didn't want to worry about any future decisions after Saturday's abrupt end to their season, choosing instead to focus on the achievements that had been absent for so long in New York.
"I thought we did a great job of staying together all season, stringing some wins together and winning the division," center Tyson Chandler said.
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